Centenary of blaze at Wrest Park marked by historians

Aftermath of fire at Wrest Park. From a private collection
Aftermath of fire at Wrest Park. From a private collection

An event is being held at Wrest Park at Silsoe to mark the centenary of a devastating fire which wrecked the historic mansion in September 1916.

Exactly 100 years after the fire broke out, the Wrest On Fire! event on Thursday, September 15, will tell visitors more about the blaze and how it led directly to the closure of the auxiliary hospital which operated at th park during the First World War.

Visitors will be able to join the park’s historian, Andrew Hann, for an introductory talk describing the events of the fire, including the evacuation of patients and the efforts made to extinguish the fire by crews from Bedford, Shefford, Ampthill, Woburn Abbey and other stations.

The park’s volunteer history group will also be running tours of the gardens which will focus specifically on areas relevant to the 1916 fire. Throughout the day an exhibition about the fire including photographs, diary entries and newspaper articles of the time will also be displayed in the mansion house.

Mr Hann, historian for English Heritage, said: “Wrest Park was the first country house to become a convalescent hospital during the First World War, welcoming patients just a couple of weeks after the first major battle of the conflict. The fire was devastating and not only did it spell the end for Wrest Park as a flagship auxiliary hospital, the house itself was almost destroyed.

“This event will allow visitors to learn more about Wrest Park and its role during the war, as well as telling the fascinating story of how the fire unfolded and the battle to extinguish it quickly.”

During it’s time as an auxiliary hospital, Wrest Park welcomed 1,600 convalescents through its doors and the role of the house during the First World War is still evident in the village of Silsoe today, with some soldiers from the hospital buried in the churchyard.

Wrest Park’s historians and well-established volunteer history group have been able to piece together a detailed account of the fire through newspaper reports and diary extracts of Nan Herbert who helped set up the hospital and served as its matron.

On Sunday, September 18, the history group will also be delivering pop-up presentations about the fire.

Mr Hann will give talks at 11am, 1pm and 3pm and the volunteer history group will be running guided tours at 11.30am, 12.30pm, 1.30pm, 2.30pm and 3.30pm. Tickets are £9.80 for adults or £8.80 for concessions. English Heritage members will receive free entry.

For more information or to book, visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/wrestpark. Tickets will also be available on the day.